Report on prescription drug insurance shows gap in enrolment

March / April 2018   Comments

A December 2017 Conference Board of Canada report, Understanding the Gap: A Pan-Canadian Analysis of Prescription Drug Insurance Coverage, found that more than four million Canadians do not access public or private insurance they are eligible for to help pay for prescription drugs.

According to the report, 34.3 million Canadians are eligible for prescription drug insurance of some kind. Yet, despite this high eligibility rate, only 59 per cent of the 22.4 million who qualify for public coverage enrol in such a program. After the use of private plans is factored in, there are still 4.1 million people who could enrol in public or private insurance that do not.

The authors of the study suggest that a failure to enrol in public insurance may be one reason Canadians do not take medications as prescribed. To help understand the factors involved, a national Nanos survey on behaviours related to drug use set out to determine key reasons why prescription drugs are not taken. Seven per cent of survey respondents failed to take their medications as prescribed. Among them, more than half were unaware of publicly funded programs to help people get access. While this same group had spent an average of $270 for medications in the last six months, cost was cited by less than seven per cent as the reason the drugs were not taken as prescribed.


As part of the 2018 budget, the federal government announced the creation of an advisory council to study the implementation of national pharmacare. The council, which will be chaired by former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins, will begin a national dialogue with experts from all relevant fields, in collaboration with provincial, territorial and Indigenous leaders. In due course, it will provide an economic and social assessment of domestic and international models to the federal ministers of finance and health. The council’s recommendations will guide the government’s policy on making drugs more affordable for Canadians. While there is no official timeline, the work is expected to be completed by spring 2019, a few months before the next fixed election date.

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